The Giants have moved on from Landon Collins, depriving their roster of one of its most forceful defensive players.
General manager Dave Gettleman declined to use the franchise tag on Collins, with a 4 p.m. Tuesday deadline in place to either tag Collins or else allow him to enter free agency. Collins will hit the open market March 13 and the Giants bring back nothing in return, other than a compensatory draft pick in 2020 once that convoluted formula is figured out.
Collins, if tagged, would have received a salary of $11.15 million for the 2019 season and his cost against the salary cap would have been the same. That financial commitment was deemed too high by Gettleman, who also did not want the distraction sure to follow from a protracted Collins holdout.
That is now moot. There was no tag for Collins to reject.
Collins took to Twitter to offer a classy goodbye:
“I want to thank the Giants organization for believing in me and allowing me to have 4 great years in NY. I can’t express how great it was to play with my teammates and in one of the greatest cities in the world. I will forever cherish my time in the blue and white and the relationships I have built in the building and in my community. Now on to the next chapter …’’
Only 25 years old, Collins made an impact in his four years. The Giants — with former general manager Jerry Reese, not Gettleman, running the show — traded up to get him at the top of the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Collins earned every bit of his four-year rookie contract of $6.1 million. He started every game his first two seasons and 15 more in 2017. He was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and in 2016 was an All-Pro and a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. That season, Collins became the only player in NFL history with 100 or more solo tackles and at least two sacks, five interceptions and 12 passes defensed.
Collins the past two years did not play up to that rarified level. He missed the final game in 2017 with a fractured forearm and missed the final four games in 2018 with a partially torn labrum in his shoulder. Long-term durability was likely a concern for the Giants, as was Collins’ deficiency in deep coverage, especially against talented tight ends. As a strong safety, though, Collins was a fearless tackler and hitter, and once he got his hands on a ball-carrier the play was over. He led the Giants in tackles in each of his four seasons.
To pay big money to a safety, the Giants want more versatility than they see in Collins.
The Giants last season traded away two starting defensive players, run-stopper Damon “Snacks’’ Harrison and cornerback Eli Apple, after projecting those players would not be on the team in 2019. A final assessment was not yet made on Collins, though, and the Giants did not bite last year before the trade deadline on what The Post learned was a fourth-round pick offered for him.
For now, allowing Collins to depart for no compensation is a bad optic. Gettleman rose through the ranks in the NFL as a pro personnel evaluator, and what happens next, with Collins elsewhere and at the safety position for the Giants, is on him. The fan base will not take kindly to this decision, as Collins was a popular player. He was also popular in the locker room and this past season was voted a defensive team captain.
Michael Thomas, a veteran safety signed last year, posted on Twitter: “Salute Cap’n!!! Was an honor to play along side you bruh. Great teammate on and off the field. Excited for you.’’
Saquon Barkley tweeted, “Heck of a player and leader! Learned a lot from you this year 21! All luv.’’
In the past, the Giants used the franchise tag as a placeholder, buying time — July 15 is this year’s cutoff date — to get a multi-year deal done. Clearly, this new regime did not view Collins as a long-term option at a high price and will be proven wrong, or correct, based on where Collins lands next and how he fares. There will be an active market for his services.
The salary-cap money needed to tag Collins could have been created if outside linebacker Olivier Vernon is released. The Giants would like to trade Vernon, but he is set to make $15.2 million in 2019 and count $19.5 million on the cap, figures that make a trade unlikely. Cutting Vernon will save the Giants $11.5 on this year’s cap and perhaps it will be used to find Collins’ replacement in free agency. It will not be used on Collins.